Jack Zipes (adaptation)/John Barth (introduction)
The Arabian Nights Volume II: More Marvels and Wonders of the Thousand and One Nights (Signet Classics)
John Barth's introduction to this edition of Scheherazade's classic tales is a classic unto itself. Ideally, a first-rate introduction is capable of piquing curiosity in the newbie and reawakening that same curiosity, but on a deeper level, in a reader who's previously read the book. Here, Barth succeeds on both counts, and he goes a step further by folding in autobiographical tidbits and, for those familiar with his body of work, clues about how The Arabian Nights has informed his unique brand of storytelling. Barth, who turns 80 in May, crafts an introduction-within-an-introduction to a book comprised of stories and stories-within-stories. It's a bit of literary bravura that leaves you with a deeper appreciation of Scheherazadean and Barthian style.
William L. Gresham
Nightmare Alley (New York Review Books)
Gresham, a Baltimore native, wrote this noir-ish tale of carny life and snake oil spiritualism in the mid-1940s. Though out of print for years, it's been adapted to film (the 1947 movie starred Tyrone Power), a graphic novel (by Spain Rodriguez in 2003), and a new musical (which opens this month in Los Angeles). This new edition (with intro by Nick Tosches) of Gresham's deliciously dark original will thrill fans of hard-boiled fiction by the likes of Jim Thompson and Dashiell Hammett. Protagonist Stan Carlisle graduates from carnival sideshows to high society séances, and Gresham pulls us into those worlds with extraordinary detail and a cast of characters that would make Freaks director Tod Browning envious. Carlisle's rise is gripping stuff, but his fall is even more dramatic, as Gresham neatly wraps up the story with electrifying precision and a startlingly creepy climax that's linked to the book's opening scene.
Theodore Kornweibel, Jr.
Railroads in the African American Experience: A Photographic Journey (Johns Hopkins)
A. Philip Randolph and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters may not get the same play as, say, Rosa Parks, but they were no less important in the Civil Rights struggle. This handsome volume implicitly makes that point as it documents the vital role railroads have played in African-American culture. Kornweibel writes with the meticulous sweep of a historian, and hundreds of amazing photographs and related ephemera help tell the story, from laying track to Amtrak. The railroad companies' own promotional photographs from the 1940s and 1950s, showing an all-black staff serving all-white customers (with smiles all around), are disquieting, but they also illustrate how African-Americans came to change the railroad system, and the country as a whole.